Research Help for a 100th Anniversary Commemoration Project


Greg Hanson

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Mar 23, 2012
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Hello All,

It's great to be finally posting on here after a few months of reading posts with great interest. To be entirely honest I'm not sure if this post is right for General Titanica but it felt so general I put it here. Moderators please do move it if necessary.

A quick introduction; my name is Greg and I am an actor, currently working with four other young actors at the Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds. We currently have a creative associateship with the Theatre Royal; working with their creative learning department to make new pieces of theatre in "the Community". At Christmas we were seen running around the streets of Bury in a new piece of street theatre based on 'A Christmas Carol' called 'Dickens About' and now we're working on a project to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of Titanic.

Briefly; the project has seen us spend the past few months engaged in a lot of heavy duty research into the real nitty gritty of Titanic's history. Then on 14th April at 7.30pm we will come together in a rehearsal room with some costume, props and scenery and work through the night to create a brand new piece of theatre based on our research. This piece will then be performed to a public audience at 7.30pm on 15th April. I'll include a copy of our flyer in this post so long as that doesnt infringe any "no advertising" rules on the forum; I genuinely share it for curiosity not for commercial purposes.

I'd be really grateful if people active on these boards would be able to lend their considerable knowledge and support our research. It is important to us that the piece we create is as accurate as possible. As much as I enjoy James Cameron's film I don't buy for one second that adding in fictional characters is at all necessary; people have been captivated by the Titanic story long before Jack and Rose inexplicably managed to circumvent strict White Star Line guidelines and play silly buggers on the bow. Not only that, cliche as it may sound, I feel we owe it to those whose lives are entwined with Titanic; designers, builders, crewmen and women, officers and passengers, to represent their stories as truthfully as we can.

All five of us are pretty well versed in a basic understanding of the history, from the founding of Harland and Wolff and White Star Line right up to the discovery of the wreck. However as dramatists we know the potency of any kind of storytelling comes in the detail and humanity; so the questions that I have may be a bit unusual or seem to be a bit out of left field, but there is method in the madness and I'll happily explain the reasons for asking some of these questions if asked. Likewise if you have any suggestions as to what we might represent dramatically I'm more than happy to read what you have to say; please do bear in mind not a single stage direction or line of dialogue will be devised until the evening of the 14th April.

I'd be really grateful if you could supply sources where possible. It's not a case of trust (though being able to verify things for myself does calm my anally retentive attention to detail) but we will be having a post show Q+A session with our audience and it would be nice to be able to provide sources when asked a question.

Righty-ho; here are some questions currently burning a hole in the side of my skull:

1.) I'd really like as much clarification as possible on the roles, duties and responsibilities of Pirrie, Carlisle and Andrews in terms of designing the ship. What I understand thus far is that Pirrie was responsible for overall design (hull shape/structure etc.), Carlisle the interiors and Andrews the details and engineering aspects for Olympic then taking on Carlisle's duties for Titanic. Anyone able to broaden my understanding of this? Who would've done what exactly and how did they work together? Did they dedicate most of their time to designing Olympic and then simply copy the design with amendments here and there or would they have devoted an equal amount of time to designing each ship?

2.) This sort of leads on from the above. The decision to reduce Titanic's lifeboat complement from 32 to 16 (plus 4 collapsibles). Quite an important issue. Who suggested the figure 32 in the first place? Surely the number of lifeboats was decided during the design of Olympic? In which case it would have been Carlisle's decsion (he certainly seems to suggest it was at the British inquiry), right? Though I've read he was initially pushing for 60-odd lifeboats and retired due to his dispute with Ismay over the number of boats. Yet at the same time a number of sources (not least James Cameron) have adamantly insisted that Andrews was the one who had the idea of installing Welin davits, of having 32 boats and that it was he whom Ismay overruled. But surely this can't have been the case until Carlisle had retired? By which point the Olympic was already sailing. Again any clarification here would be great.

3.) This one's much simpler: are there any legitimate sources that cite Andrews as telling Captain Smith that Titanic's foundering was "a mathematical certainty"? Beyond Cameron's film and an unreferenced line in Andrews' Wikipedia biog I can find no other source for this. It's a cracking line to be sure; but we have no interest in using the film's dialogue aside from that which was taken from witness testimony.

Thanks so much in advance for your help, it's greatly appreciated!

:D

Greg

Titanic Final Draft.jpgTitanic Poster Reverse Final.jpg

Titanic Final Draft.jpg


Titanic Poster Reverse Final.jpg
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Iowa, USA
Hi Greg;

If you can get to a library, a good source is Walter Lord's "The Night Lives On" Chapter 8 (VIII) "I was very soft the day I signed that"

It talks about the lifeboat situation, and also of Alexander Carlisle, Harold Sanderson, Bruce Ismay, and how all of them had a hand in determining that the boats on deck should be 64 or 48. It was Mr. Carlisle who wanted davits for 64 boats, but felt 48 would be enough, and left Mr. Ismay with the plans to do the math, never actually stating so, just suggesting more boat would be useful in an economic situation.

It's be a good read for what you are looking for. I parapharsed the above from page 77.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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Greg, whatever was said by Andrews to the Captain after he inspected the damage would have been for the Captain's ears alone. As neither survived we can never know what words were used. Credit for the 'mathematical certainty' line belongs to Eric Ambler, who wrote it for the screenplay of 'A Night to Remember' back in 1958:

"These watertight bulkheads here only go as high as E deck. The weight of water in the bow is going to pull her down by the head. So you're going to get the fifth watertight compartment overflowing into the sixth, the sixth into the seventh, and so on as she gets lower. It's a mathematical certainty. With that amount of underwater damage she can't stay afloat."
 
Mar 18, 2008
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2.) This sort of leads on from the above. The decision to reduce Titanic's lifeboat complement from 32 to 16 (plus 4 collapsibles). Quite an important issue. Who suggested the figure 32 in the first place? Surely the number of lifeboats was decided during the design of Olympic? In which case it would have been Carlisle's decsion (he certainly seems to suggest it was at the British inquiry), right? Though I've read he was initially pushing for 60-odd lifeboats and retired due to his dispute with Ismay over the number of boats. Yet at the same time a number of sources (not least James Cameron) have adamantly insisted that Andrews was the one who had the idea of installing Welin davits, of having 32 boats and that it was he whom Ismay overruled. But surely this can't have been the case until Carlisle had retired? By which point the Olympic was already sailing. Again any clarification here would be great.

It was Carlisle who wanted davits which could hold 64 lifeboats. Carlisle himself thought that 48 boats were enough. During the meetings he show that plan to Pirrie, Ismay and Sanderson they talked about it for 5 to 10 minutes before they again talked about the interior of the ship. There was no fight with Ismay and Carlisle did not left because of the lifeboat conflict, that is a modern legend. Carlisle was to go for retirement in June 1910 what he did.
He also did not point directly out to Ismay and the others that the ships need 48 lifeboats. What he did was that he show the plan and that was all. As the rules were only for 16 boats, it was decided to put 16 and 4 additional boats on the ship. It was more the failure of the Board of Trade for not changing the rules.
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Ionnis,

You probably explained that better then I did. Hopefully the chapter I mentioned will be a good read for him. It'll answer all his questions he needs to get the characters down pat.
 

Greg Hanson

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Mar 23, 2012
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Thank you to all who have replied; it's a great help.

I had suspected as much about the "mathematical certainty" line; I think the melodramatic inside me (who otherwise has remained quite repressed during the course of this project) was desperate for some justification to use the line!

Jake thank you for the book suggestion; I'll certainly track it down. I have Lord's "A Night to Remember" (though I understand it's somewhat dated now), and I will read his follow up with interest.

The info about Carlisle is very helpful. I understood from Carlisle's account at the BOT inquiry that the meeting was very formal and strictured and that they spent no more than 10 minutes of the meeting discussing lifeboats. And I did have a niggling suspcion that the story of Carlisle's retirement in protest was either hindsight or the dreaded "artistic license".

To clarify (sorry for being a stickler but it is rather important); there was NO POINT that we know of where Thomas Andrews was involved in a meeting specifically or broadly relating to Titanic's lifeboats? Presumably there was a meeting where he outlined the Cafe Parisien and indoor promenades as these were his improvements, no?

No doubt I'll have a few more questions over the coming days, but thanks once more for your help so far; it's greatly appreciated. If anyone would like a research credit in our programme please just give us a shout and I will arrange that.

Thanks again,

Greg
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Iowa, USA
Hi Greg;

in some ways, Walter's book, "The Night Lives On" could probably seem dated, but it was published in 1986, to answer some of the questions raised from reading the original. He does attempt to answer the question about the "300 foot gash" saying that it was actually Edward Wilding that suggested it might only be 12 square feet of actual damage, but that subsequent generations couldn't imagine any damage so trivially small sinking such a massively large liner, so the 300 foot theory stuck for 80 years, until confirmation of sorts came in 1996, when six small slits were discovered via sonar reading in the area where Titanic is thought to have struck the iceberg.
 

Greg Hanson

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Mar 23, 2012
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Hi Greg;

in some ways, Walter's book, "The Night Lives On" could probably seem dated, but it was published in 1986, to answer some of the questions raised from reading the original. He does attempt to answer the question about the "300 foot gash" saying that it was actually Edward Wilding that suggested it might only be 12 square feet of actual damage, but that subsequent generations couldn't imagine any damage so trivially small sinking such a massively large liner, so the 300 foot theory stuck for 80 years, until confirmation of sorts came in 1996, when six small slits were discovered via sonar reading in the area where Titanic is thought to have struck the iceberg.
Having just started reading Frances Wilson's otherwise very well-written "The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay" it unfortunately seems that the "300 foot gash" hasn't quite disappeared.
 

Isabel

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Mar 22, 2012
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This is my first post on here so I hope I am doing it correctly. Good for you, Greg, for wanting to research
the Titanic's story so thoroughly. I am in total agreement with you that there was so much real human
drama in the real event that there is absolutely no need to create fictional characters.
 

Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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I think that the new Welin davits were installed partly because of an anticipated change in the lifeboat law.

Regarding Andrews determination of the longevity of the Titanic. In the first 20 minutes, Andrews told boatswain Nichols that the ship had half an hour to live. Nichols informed lamp trimmer Hemming and told him to let no-one else know. During the turning out of the boats, Boxhall went and asked the captain
how long the ship had left, and he was told that Andrews had computed an hour to an hour and a half. No surviving officer mentioned being told of the ship's projected lifespan, and Smith did not volunteer the information to anyone.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I think that the new Welin davits were installed partly because of an anticipated change in the lifeboat law.<<

It helps that it was a better davit system. Not perfect and by today's standards, a backbreaking manual beast to work (I've done it!) but a big improvement over what they replaced.
 

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